Holness has become a formidable politician

Christopher Burns

Sunday, February 25, 2018

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness is a formidable force in Jamaican politics. He knows that politics is art of the possible. By this I mean, it's not about what's right or what's best, it's about what you [he] can actually get done. In his case, it is about what he can get done for and on behalf of the people. His meteoric rise proves he also understands the worth of political pugilism; hence, the effectiveness of his political work and shrewdness.

Friends and foes alike within and outside his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) who choose to underestimate his political pizzazz do so at their own peril. Holness shall remain politically relevant for a long time — unless he chooses to commit a “Bruce”. Those familiar with the infamous eponym know exactly what it represents, but may elect to advance plausible deniability by dropping a Dwight “I don't recall” Nelson.

On the face of it, Andrew does not appear to be an insecure man. Quite the contrary, as his audacity precedes any desires he might harbour for encomiums or festoons to be placed on his political leadership tree. As a contributor to the political commentariat, I am always mindful not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. This approach provides the opportunity for rational, dispassionate, generous, and kind expressions, even when disagreements are inevitable and correction is the right call to make.

Put simply, if we are serious about building social capital, then we “can't see the forest for the trees…” To begin with, politicians are not sacred cows. Neither are they immune from fallibility, however well-intentioned or admired. As such, criticism of Holness comes not because I love him any less. My critiques of areas of his leadership are well-grounded in facts and logics and come because I happen to love Jamaica more.

The intent is always to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's…” This is particularly necessary if we aim to approach national development and prosperity along the pathway of bipartisanship — real and meaningful bipartisanship. True to form, too, since “one hand can't clap” we have to engage analogical thinking and seek inputs from people we loathe, politically or otherwise. After all, national advancement is best achieved by inclusive leadership and fair-minded followership. Therefore, though politically incongruous to many, treatment of our politicians (past and present) cannot always be premised on “zero-sum”, or and “all or nothing” principles. When the prime minister errs, he errs. When Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips errs, he errs. But, when either one does good things, or causes positive things to be done, we should recognise and celebrate the outcomes.

One such outcome that Jamaicans must readily applaud as a win-win is the soon-to-be delivered bridge to residents of Chesterfield, St Mary. Mr Prime Minister, on that delivery, your credibility remains intact. You delivered in a way that will have long-lasting positive impact on the residents. Yours is a promise made and a promise kept. It is confirmation of my “Holness is not a snollygoster” declaration on these pages, last Sunday.

Lest we forget, it was in the run-up to last year's by-election in St Mary South Eastern, that Holness promised that a structure would be erected to ensure Chesterfield is accessible during times of inclement weather. Yes, he was hunting votes. The imageries remain indelibly fresh in my mind as he traversed the constituency. Holness rolled up his pants legs, walked barefooted in mud and water, crossed rivers, and hugged babies, but reassured residents of Chesterfield that “help is on the way…” Undoubtedly, he convinced enough of them that a vote for Dr Norman Dunn would have been a vote for a better standard of living. He and his Government have delivered!

The prime minister has shown what effective political representation and good governance are all about. That he has not taken their votes for granted is, in and of itself, a remarkable departure from old-time, stale-style politicking. Andrew's ensuing actions are true expressions of transformational leadership at heart. There are no excesses in this declaration of transformational leadership — none whatsoever. The fact that the residents will soon no longer have to endanger their lives is glorious.

For years, residents of Chesterfield have had to brave flood waters from the Wag Water River in order to access their homes. Zephaniah Byfield, long-time resident of the small farming community in Castleton, St Mary, never minced words in expressing the plight and struggle to cross the Wag Water River without a bridge — oftentimes at great “risk of losing their lives getting to work, school, church, and other places outside their community…” According to Byfield, “It has become so embarrassing to see children, people — young and old of various professions — when they are going to school or church, or work; when dem reach the river they have to strip down to their underwear, some naked, in order to swim across the river…”

In addition, the following excerpts from a September 27, 2016 article by Lindsworth Deer put the nightmarish conditions in stark terms: “…So far, some five people have died over the past eight years ( Jamaica Observer, December 18, 2015), and many other injured crossing the river. Pechoo, a resident of Chesterfield, confirmed that people have died when the river is in spate, 'The last man that died was a 50-year-old farmer who was washed away as he attempted to leave the area'…The residents have been lobbying the Government of Jamaica to build a Bailey bridge or better structure for the past 15 years…”

All politics is local. Obviously, the Prime Minister knows that well. Implicit in his actions, in this specific case, is an awareness for him and his Government to continue the focus on fixing the small things that have the greatest impact on people's lives and well-being. It was quite heartening to read the following press release from the National Works Agency quoting its CEO E G Hunter: The “Chesterfield bridge is being sourced under the Major Infrastructure Development Programme and is expected to be in Jamaica by the end of March...Some US$2 million is being spent to procure the seven bridges and associated parts...In the case of Chesterfield, the two-span Compact 200 bridge will be 180 feet long, built mainly for the purposes of pedestrians, but will be able accommodate small cars…”

The JLP can count on the support of the almost 200 residents of Chesterfield, as well as on the support of future generations. Holness is doing many things that the previous People's National Party Government failed to do — all in the name of “passing the IMF tests”. Whilst it is the fiscal discipline and prudence that the previous Government followed, which now makes it easier for Holness to deliver bags of goodies, Holness could have also straitjacketed himself fiscally because the economic fundamentals have not shifted by leaps and bounds since 2016. Holness is no fool.

He knows the socio-political dynamics and pitfalls all too well to have morphed in a mini-Dr Phillips, whose mantra and singularity of focus was steadfastly on “Passing the IMF tests”. As finance minister, Philips appeared too willing to swallow “book, chapter and verse” the International Monetary Fund' s bitter medicine. Holness understands the cultural dynamics, as well as the symbiotic relationships between sacrifice and reward, and promise and tangible performance, to have fallen prey to the thinking that talk away the inherent hardship that descends upon the masses during the period when as “the grass grows the horse starves”. It is this political genius in him that makes him the formidable political force he has become.

As Michael Manley was wont to say, “Good leaders are not doubters.” Holness does not appear to ever doubt his capacity or capabilities. In fact, he appears to misjudge them, then use stealthy ego and self-deprecation as tools to minimise and excuse the overvaluation. He does “his thing” with dexterity and calculation. He knows that politics is about communities and cycles; just watch him build his political communities (this is dissimilar to political garrisons) and support structures. He, more than any other contemporary politician, knows that having a cadre of trusted men is him being a quintessentially visionary leader and politician.

That, added to his very apparent devotion to Machiavellian manoeuvres put him in good stead to remain prime minister of Jamaica for quite some time. Undoubtedly, Andrew's appeal, youth, bravado and political muscularity must be keeping Dr Phillips up at nights. Try as he might, overcoming Andrew's mass appeal and political adroitness will not be easy. The more Andrew delivers and shows willingness to buck traditions in getting government to work for the people and to deliver outcomes they have deem beneficial to their lives, the harder it will be for the PNP, especially with Dr Phillips at the helm, to dislodge him or the JLP.




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